Lagos-based small business owner, Olugbuyi Ogunnaike is the creator and proprietor of ICE BOX NIG Enterprises- a logistics outfit dedicated to the catering and supply of ice and drinks for all kinds of events or social gatherings. Gbuyi and I once went to the same school. He holds a Bachelor of Science and Masters Degree in Business Administration and has slowly begun to build a business empire from Nigeria’s un-ceremonial informal sector. After several postponed appointments, he finally had some time for me and over a couple of drinks we had a worthwhile conversation. Here is his story.
Q. Please tell me about your business. When did it all begin?
A. Simply put, ICEBOX adequately provides the total logistics for drinks at social events and formal gatherings. For profit, it started in January 2010, but I have been engaged in its activities not for profit for a very long time.
Q. What inspired you to venture into this kind of business? I mean did you have prior knowledge or skills required for drinks and its logistics?
A. Its hardly requires any skills set. It had all started since you and I were both in secondary school. A lot of times back then my family loved celebrations. Be it Easter, Christmas, Birthdays or Anniversaries, we often had social functions at home and my dad always put me in charge of drinks. I always ended up being the one with the keys to the drums where the drinks were stored and chilled. Also because of NEPA and their difficulties, I always had to run helter-skelter looking for ice to have the drinks chilled and practically ended up knowing every alcoholic and non-alcoholic drink and ice block seller in the Ogudu area where we lived. It was a procedural thing I got used to. After my first degree, I never had a competent job. I always knew I was under paid. After sometime, I signed up for a Masters Degree to give me an edge over others seeking for better employment but all offers I got were nowhere near motivating. Out of necessity, Icebox was born and we here now since 2010.
Q. So do you solely handle ICEBOX and all its responsibility in terms of logistics or you have support from other people?
A. (Laughs) Guy, how now? That’s impossible. Right now, I have ten guys as permanent staff. I also contract more staff when I handle events more than my employee's present strength.
Q. Did your employees have prior knowledge or skills set for this business before employment?
A. No. You have to understand, what I do under the circumstance of our country hardly requires any compulsory skills set asides the right attitude. If you have the right attitude to learn, you can do most things in my line of work. So all my employees undergo consistent training sessions with me. I continually educate myself through catering manuals and the gift to us called the Internet. There is so much material in videos and articles about what I do online. The trainings I give my employees lie in mannerisms, client service, style of service delivery and the right attitude for work. From our inter-personal communication to clients and guests down to our couture image, we go through these at least fortnightly. Hospitality provision is more about your mannerisms, habits and attitude than your skills set. If you have the right mannerisms and attitude you can learn on this job easily.
Q. How do you mean under the circumstance of Nigeria?
A. Nigeria is very loose to my line of business. There are hardly regulated or enforced government checks and balances monitoring or guiding Catering Services. No compulsory health standards one must be forced to adhere to, no alcohol or catering license one must file for or degrees one must qualify for to practice the business. The principles or regulations that govern my type of business for continuous patronage are created by the business owners’ themselves. And we just tailor them to our specification mostly for more patronage. Ensure adequate service delivery, proper mannerisms with guests, the right image, good client relations and all.
Q. I see. So how have you been able to sustain the business so far and what sector do you mostly have your clients from?
A. Well, we thank God. It’s been worthwhile. Last year, ICEBOX’s profit was little over 12 million naira. We did 20 million in turn over but because of annoying COT bank charges it fell to 12 million, so business has indeed not been bad. With good client relations, tuning the customer’s budget to specific needs and proper service delivery I have been able to sustain the business. I started with just one permanent staff in 2010 who was just a volunteer and now in 2012 its grown to ten; not volunteers but paid staff. We’ve catered drinks at weddings, anniversaries, formal conferences, naming ceremonies, birthdays and burials in Lagos, Osun, Oyo, Ogun and Ekiti states. Our clients come from all works of life and we have had over 150 clients since we started.
Q. Can you mention how frequently you get these catering jobs and some clients you have done jobs for.
A. We have peak and off-peak periods. From April to about June as well as September to December have been our peak periods. During these times, we have at least two events to cater for every week. Other times when it’s off peak, we have at least one job every other weekend- probably two a month but this business is highly profiting based on those you can reach out to. Right now, its only referrals from satisfied clients and my personal social media platform that’s our present advertisement structure. I plan on improving this. We’ve done jobs for Accion Micro Finance bank, Jamb’s Registrar- Prof. Dibu Ojerinde, Foremost Business Men and Politicians like Dr Kase Lukman Lawal, Mr Femi Tejuosho, Mr Tolu Mudasiru, Alhaji Rasheed Ladoja and a whole lot to mention a few.
Q. So would I be right so say from this clientele it’s been quite lucrative for you? Also, do you plan on expand service delivery to other areas of catering like food?
A. Well like I said, am thankful to God. Depending on the number of guests expected by a client we make at the lowest N30, 000 and as much as N200, 000 after all procurement costs and staff fees per event. For now, ICEBOX is strictly focused on catering for drinks and presently working on setting up offices in Ogun, Oyo and Abuja. Am also about to go on a two weeks training course in South Africa and hopefully take one of my employees to gain expertise on how to mix over 100 cocktail recipes. ICEBOX wants to start adding cocktails to the list of drinks it caters for.
Q. Talking about employees, it brings me back to a question I wanted to ask earlier on, how do you pay your staff? Weekly or Monthly? And what’s your target audience for employment?
A. I pay them after every event. I like them to feel the spontaneous advantage in quick remuneration the job provides. We get paid per event so there’s no reason to have their fees tied down. I hold staff welfare very important because I don’t like running up and down looking for guys when I have an event. Because of this, 7 out of the 10 guys currently working with ICEBOX have been with me for 12 months. Also, I really prefer guys who aren’t bent on still going to University. This might sound selfish but its needed for the long-term business vision I have for ICEBOX. Though I have two under-graduates working for me and understand their need to find support for tuition fees and upkeep costs, they tend to be distracted and more focused on more personal peer pressing issues than ICEBOX. Like when they having exams or just need some quick money to go shopping or take their girlfriends out, that’s the time you see them seeking for work. But once they have some of their fees paid, you have to be chasing them for the next event. But those who are decided already University is not for them are more focused and committed to ICEBOX. These are the ones I tend to focus on and have strong plans for. Thus, the reason why I want to spread ICEBOX out to other states so they can feel part and parcel of the business.
Q. What are your present hindrances, strength and vision for ICEBOX?
The major challenge we have right now is everyone knowing an outfit like ICEBOX exists. An outfit adequately and luxuriously catering to the logistics for drinks at all kinds of events. We need to do a lot more public relations and marketing and that comes with huge financial requirements. We are very good at what we do and our client referrals speak huge volumes in this regard. Our strength has been the mutual understanding I have with my guys. When we begin catering at events, you can hardly tell who is Boss. We are solely dedicated to results and that is the guests having a good time and meeting all their drink needs. As I mentioned to you earlier, social media and oral referrals has been my backbone for the past two years. We have only gotten more clients based on our very satisfied clientele who have referred us to others. Now, we want ICEBOX to appear in magazines, newspapers and all other advert platforms. I want to expand the business and have branches in Ogun, Oyo and Abuja letting the public know ICEBOX exists. This would guarantee ICEBOX having more clients, an avenue to purchase more infrastructural needs for the business as well as also transforming the lives of some of my employees.
Q. Wow, this has been enlightening. Lastly, have you solicited for loans from any financial institution and what kind of support do you think your business needs from government representatives?
A. Loans? In what world? Ours? (Laughs) Am a small boy ooo. (Laughs again) Like I said, last year we made up to 20million but Sky bank wouldn’t give us a loan when I filed for one. I once filed for one. They asked for collaterals I didn’t and still don’t t have. Guess am in business to make them money rather myself. In fact to be honest am not bothered. I can by God’s grace build ICEBOX without their support or that of government. The time government and financial institutions start getting hands into my business is the time its focus and priorities begin to shift and change in order to facilitate their demands. I prefer to be free and independent of them both for now. I want to remain on my slow but steady course and we not doing so badly.
Gbuyi has somewhat challenged me. The pace and direction of his business has not only guaranteed employment for his workers irrespective of their background and academic qualification but also aims and is seriously facilitating for more means to transform and add value to their individual lives irrespective of the same thing. For this, at the end of our conversation, I nationalised Gbuyi as a citizen of DraggNation! Congrats again bro. He is a Driver of Nigeria's Economy.
Please, you can contact ICEBOX NIG ENT for all types for formal or social gatherings that needs his services through the details below. I guarantee you would be satisfied to the extent you would give referrals.
Contact: Olugbuyi Ogunnaike
Tel: 08037217228, 08025099418
Follow Twitter Handle: @ice_box2010
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